Motivated variously by the desire to reject consumerism, to live closer to the earth, to embrace voluntary simplicity, or to discover a more spiritual path, homesteaders have made the radical decision to go "back to the land," rejecting modern culture and amenities to live self-sufficiently and in harmony with nature. Drawing from vivid firsthand accounts as well as from rich historical material, this gracefully written study of homesteading in America from the late nineteenth century to the present examines the lives and beliefs of those who have ascribed to the homesteading philosophy, placing their experiences within the broader context of the changing meanings of nature and religion in modern American culture.
Rebecca Kneale Gould investigates the lives of famous figures such as Henry David Thoreau, John Burroughs, Ralph Borsodi, Wendell Berry, and Helen and Scott Nearing, and she presents penetrating interviews with many contemporary homesteaders. She also considers homesteading as a form of dissent from consumer culture, as a departure from traditional religious life, and as a practice of environmental ethics.
List of Illustrations
A Homesteading Time Line
2. Getting (Not Too) Close to Nature
3. Homemade Ritual
Interlude: Interpreting Ambivalence: Homesteading as Spiritual and Cultural Work
4. The Reenchantment of the Farm: John Burroughs Goes Back to the Land
5. Scott Nearing and the Social Gospel of Agriculture
6. Ambivalent Legacies I: The Dynamics of Engagement and Retreat
7. Ambivalent Legacies II: Gender, Class, Nature, and Religion
Appendix: Of Hoes and Huckleberries: A Note on Method
Rebecca Kneale Gould is Associate Professor of Religion and Affiliate in Environmental Studies at Middlebury College.
“With authority and insight, Gould explores how the practice of staying at home reveals a ‘lived response’ to the changing meanings of nature and religion in modern American culture. Here is homesteading in all its richness and ambiguity.”—Orion
“THIS IS AN EXCELLENT BOOK, WELL WRITTEN, AND RICH IN DETAIL AND INSIGHT.”—Lisa Sideris, Indiana Univ Journal Of The American Academy Of Religion
"Gould's attention to the ironies and ambivalences that abound in the practice of homesteading provides fresh and insightful perspective."—Beth Blissman, Oberlin College
"This luminously written ethnography of the worlds that homesteaders make significantly broadens our understanding of modern American religion. In richly textured descriptions of the everyday lives and work of the homesteaders with whom she lived, Gould helps us understand how the tasks of clearing land, making bread, and building a garden wall were ways of taking on the most urgent issues of meaning and ethics."—Robert A. Orsi, Harvard University
"This is a fascinating, authoritative, and accessible look at one of America's most important subcultures. If you ever get around to building that cabin in the woods, or especially if you don't, you'll want this volume on the bookshelf."—Bill McKibben, author of Wandering Home: A Long Walk Across America's Most Hopeful Landscape
"Rebecca Gould's compelling book on American homesteading brings the study of the religion-nature connection in the U.S. to a new place."—Catherine L. Albanese, author of Nature Religion in America: From the Algonkian Indians to the New Age
"Gould provides brand new data and sheds new interpretive light on familiar figures and movements. At Home in Nature
is a model of how to seamlessly blend ethnography and history."—Bron Taylor, University of Florida, editor of the Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature